Stand 23-VII | Anniversary Week #1

Foolish And Forgetful.

Naomi screamed. I screamed.

“We all screamed for ice cream.”

We might die.

“The point still stands.”

The street below us was coming up awfully fast. There was a crowd gathered a bit further down the street, cordoned off by police cars with sirens blaring. A line of officers stood in front of the cars, guns drawn, pointing upwards at the platform. A few of them noticed me, turning the barrels on me as we arced through the air, but I had more pressing concerns.

I’d thrown us as much outwards as down, completely unintentionally. The original ‘plan’ (read: instinct/snap judgement), was to just float down, but I hadn’t really thought about it until then. Naomi meant that it wasn’t going work; at best I’d be able to cushion her landing with my body, but that still had a pretty high chance of injuring one or both of us.

And… I didn’t have any other ideas. I hadn’t been working on logic when I’d jumped; I just wanted to get out. And now I might have gotten us both killed because of it.

The ground was coming up fast, now. It looked very… solid. So incredibly solid. Because of the initial trajectory, though, we were also getting pretty close to the building across the street. In fact, it was looking like we were going to hit it before-

I shifted so I was holding Naomi away from the wall, tucking her closer as she clung to my torso, and raised my other arm.

Please work, please work, please work, please work. As soon as this was over, I swore, I was going to test out every single dumb thing I could possibly do with these powers, just so I wouldn’t have to keep finding out when my life was on the line.

That is, if I made it that far.

My hand hit the wall first, and I immediately dug my hand into the concrete. To my relief, although it didn’t tear through as easily as it had when I hadn’t had a hole in my guts, it still tore through it pretty easily. Still hurt, though, jerking my shoulder up in a spike of pain that years of gymnastics experienced told me it was dislocated. My lower body immediately swung inwards, and I kicked out a foot and stuck it into the wall in the same way.

The wall wasn’t offering much resistance, but that wasn’t the same as no resistance, and we began to slow down. Not quick enough, though; the ground was still coming up at an alarming pace. I gritted my teeth and stuck my other foot in too, trying not to fall backwards. If only I’d had both hands, but Naomi was still occupying one of them.

Just before the bottom, I kicked my legs out to absorb the landing. We hit the ground at what was definitely an uncomfortable speed, but was far better than pancake speed. My injured ankle immediately collapsed out from underneath me, of course, and I fell over, thankfully on the opposite side to Naomi. She’d stopped screaming, but her grip was still iron-tight.

My arm flopped limply to the ground next to me. Yep, I thought, tears welling in my eyes, that’s definitely dislocated. With my non-useless arm, I patted Naomi on the head. “Hey, honey. Are you okay?”

“...yes,” came her tiny voice after a second. She didn’t let go of me, though, and she was still pinning my arm underneath her.

“Great,” I said, staring up at the building, and the long gouges I’d left in the side. “If you could just get up, that would be great? I need that arm. For arm things.”

I felt her shake her head, and clutch tighter.

“Naomi, it’s okay. We’re safe now. We can go find your parents. It’ll all be okay, but first I really need that arm.

I’m… not good with kids.

Slowly, she loosened her arms, and sat up. I shook out the pins-and-needles from the newly-freed limb, and used it to do the same. “Thanks,” I said, getting to my feet, somewhat awkwardly. Now there were two limbs that were effectively useless. I offered Naomi a hand up, and hesitantly, she took it, and kept on holding it after she stood.

We turned to find the line of police officers… well, they weren’t pointing their guns at me, but they also weren’t not doing that. It was sort of… implied.

Which didn’t make it any less scary.

“Identify yourself!” someone boomed out over a megaphone. I squinted, but couldn’t make out any features over the light from the cars backlighting them. I was just glad they hadn’t asked me to raise my hands, because I physically could not do that.

I licked my lips and went to speak, but the words caught in my throat. I coughed, cleared my throat and tried again. “I’m… with the Tower,” I called out, as loud as I could. “It’s complicated.”

“Identify yourself!” they repeated.

“It’s complicated!” I repeated back. Naomi squeezed my hand, surprisingly hard for someone so young. “Look, I have a kid here. Did anyone report missing a Naom-”

I was cut off before I could continue by a loud scream from the crowd. Some of the officers spun around, but the source quickly made itself clear as a young man pushed her way to the front of the crowd.

“Naomi!” he cried out, dashing past the police officers before they could react. He sprinted straight up to us, and as He drew closer I could see that Naomi was his spitting image. Brother and sister, if I had to guess. He looked to young to be her dad, but you never knew.

The man dropped to his knees and swept Naomi up into a hug, squeezing her tightly and sobbing. I sort of just stood there awkwardly. What do you even do in a situation like that?

After what felt like an uncomfortable eternity, he stood up, bringing Naomi with him, and looked at me, tears still in his eyes. “Thank you,” he said croakily. “Thank you.”

Words weren’t working, so I just awkwardly nodded.

Their reunion seemed to have broken the tension; the police had lowered their guns, and I let out a breath I didn’t realise I’d been holding. Now that my hand was free, I clutched my dislocated shoulder with it, trying to massage it gently.

One of the police officers was walking towards us. Judging from the megaphone in her hand, and her fancy hat, she was the person in charge. “Sir,” she said to Naomi’s brother. “You should get back beyond the cordon.”

“Y-yes,” he said hastily, turning to go. “Thank you,” he added again to me.

I managed to speak this time. “N-no problem.”

“No problem? Really?”

“So you’re with the Tower, then?” the officer asked. “I don’t recognize you.”

“It’s… um, a new thing,” I replied tiredly. “Maybe temporary, I dunno.”

“Mm-hmm.” She didn’t seem particularly convinced, but she also didn’t try and arrest me. “And is there anyone from the Tower with you who can confirm this?”

“No, they’re all…” I trailed off as I realised how it sounded. “They all got… incapacitated. By… that.” I pointed up at the train station above.

“And you came out unscathed,” she glanced at the gaping hole in my torso, “well, still standing, when the professional heroes didn’t.”

“L-luck. And I’m pretty tough.” There was a loud boom from above, and both our heads snapped up to look at the station again. “Look, uh, ma’am, t-there isn’t time for this. There’s something up there, and it’s probably going to bring the station down. Y-you need to get everyone out of here.”

“Don’t tell me what-” another boom, this one sending a cloud of dust raining down. She grimaced, and turned and began marching back towards the crowd. “Alright, everyone!” she yelled through her megaphone, “I’m going to need everyone to turn around and go home. Nothing to see-”

With a roar, and a chorus of screams from the crowd, Paladin leaped over the edge of the platform and plummeted towards the ground.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support semi-reasonable authority figures,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Stand 23-VI

Care So Much.

I almost thought I'd imagined it. Surely, I'd imagined it. There couldn't actually-

“You understand we absolutely cannot take that risk, right?”

No crap.

“On the plus side, we now have something to distract you yet again from having to face hard reality.”

Shut. Up.

If the scream had been real, Paladin didn't seem to have heard it. She charged at me again, throwing herself off the edge of the platform towards where I stood. I moved to throw myself out of the way, but my weight was off, and instead of dodging, I tripped over my own feet and tumbled roughly. I still managed to move mostly out of the way, but the edge of my foot got clipped by the passing rush, and that, uh.

Hurt.

It didn’t go smokey like the other injuries. It felt exactly like something had hit my very real foot, very very hard. Panicked and not thinking properly, I tried to get back onto my feet, to move away, putting my weight on it, which immediately made it spike with pain and collapse out from under me.

Not now, not now. Biting the inside of my cheek to fight back the pain, I stood again, distributing my weight so I actually could support myself.
Paladin was turning around behind me, somewhat awkwardly given the size of the tracks. She seemed to be heavily focused on me, now. Before she'd constantly tried to run off, but now she kept coming for me, again and again and again. I guess I'd pissed her off.

I began hobbling towards the platform, forcing myself not to look back at the thrashing noises from behind me. I could go intangible and not worry about being hit, but I was worried she'd just… lose interest? Like a cat; if you keep dangling the string and pulling it away, they'll keep on going for it, but if you just hold it out of reach they'll lose interest. Also, ghosting right now seemed to be robbing me of some of my mass. I guess the damage meant that when I let the mass go, I couldn’t get it all back. It might’ve just been a one-time thing, but I wasn’t sure I could take that risk.

I reached the edge of the platform, and hauled myself up just as Paladin slammed into the wall below me. The ground shook precariously, and I nearly lost my balance before recovering. The shaking only lasted a second, but it was immediately followed by the painfully loud groan of metal under stress.

Oh, that’s not a good sound. Paladin was bull-in-a-china-shop-ing her way around the place, and although everything had held so far, we were still suspended something like five stories off the ground, and supports could only do so much. I picked up the pace, turning the hobbling into an awkward skip-jump.

The scream had happened while Paladin was around the middle of the platform, where a supporting beam had collapsed, crushing a few vending machines and a ticket booth. I managed to make it halfway across the platform before Paladin clambered up behind me.

I spun around awkwardly, preparing to move again as she charged.

Wait, the rubble! If I dodged, she'd charge straight through the pile that the scream had come from. If someone was trapped in there when Paladin hit it…

I abandoned my preparations, and squared up.

This was going to hurt.

I skidded backwards across the ground as Paladin slammed into me, feet carving trenches out of the ground. My arms burned, the bones flaring with white-hot pain like I’d just tried to punch a solid brick wall, legs feeling like they were going to compact to half their size. I screamed, throat raw, but I didn’t fall, and slowly we ground to a halt, a few feet in front of the rubble.

Panting heavily, vision wavering, I looked up to find Paladin’s head inches from mine. Half of a tooth, attached to a bloody nub of flesh, hung in the golden light in front of me, but I was too tired to recoil in disgust. My hands were both still occupied holding her in place, so I did the only thing I could and smashed my head into hers, as hard as I could.

We both went reeling away, both of us screaming. My head spun, ringing with pain, and I leant against a large piece of rubble to steady myself.

Oh god, I think I’m going to be sick.

“You’d just vomit smoke at this point.”

Honestly, that sounds better. I took a deep breath, and managed to look up with only a minimal amount of nausea. Paladin was still reeling, but if I’d shaken it off that quickly, she probably would too, and I still needed time-

I looked down at where my hand was resting.

Yeah, that’ll do.

Paladin finally managed to get her feet back under her, a second before the chunk of rubble I threw at her smashed into her and sent her flying backwards. That should buy me a little bit of time.

I quickly surveyed the rubble, looking for- there! A sort of alcove had formed, where a few large pieces were propped up against each other. I rushed over, and bent down to look inside.

Curled up at the back was a small girl, in a large puffy jacket, mittens and a beanie. Her eyes were full of tears, and as she saw me, they widened, and a muffled scream forced its way out through the hands covering her mouth.

“Hey, hey,” I said softly, unsure. “It’s gonna be… okay?”

“Don’t make it a question!”

Look, I’m not good at this, okay? The kid just kept on crying, sniffling into her hands. She didn’t seem to be hurt, or trapped, but it wasn’t hard to imagine how terrifying all this would’ve been.

“Hey,” I repeated, a little more confidently. “It’s alright. I’m not gonna hurt you, okay?” On impulse, I pulled up my goggles. “My name’s Wisp. What’s yours?”

“...Naomi,” she whispered at last. She did seem a little less scared now.

“Naomi, huh? That’s a cute name.” I glanced over my shoulder. Paladin was getting back. “Naomi, I know it’s scary, but I’m gonna get you out of here, okay? I just need you to come out.”

She sniffled. “...a-are you… a-are you a hero?”

Sure, why not. “Yep,” I said, trying to sound confident. “It’s okay, Naomi. We’ll get you back to your parents in no time.”

Slowly, hesitantly, she began to crawl out of the space.

“That’s it,” I said encouragingly, “that’s the spirit.” Another glance over my shoulder showed Paladin getting ready to charge us. “If you could go just a little bit faster, though, that’d be-”

Paladin roared and lowered her head, and Naomi gave a start.

“Screw it.” She was close enough now that I could grab her and pull her out, as I slid my goggles back down over my eyes. “Sorry!” I said as I tucked her into the crock of my arm. “But we’re a bit short on-”

The entire station lurched alarmingly, nearly tripping me up. Naomi screamed, and honestly I could empathise.

Didn’t faze Paladin, though. I glanced desperately around, but I couldn’t see any stairs that weren’t blocked off by rubble.

Rock and a hard place.

“Naomi,” I said as I began to back up, “I need you to hold on, okay? Can you do that?”

Slowly, she nodded.

“Great,” I said. I gave what I really hoped was a confident smile, and jumped over the edge of the platform.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support daring deeds,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Stand 23-V

What We Truly Are.

I coughed, deep and painful and wracking. Instead of blood, though, a spurt of smoke shot out of my mouth, curling upwards and dissipating into the air. I was coming apart, I could feel it. Like my skin was disintegrating away. It was kind of secondary, though, to the sensation of being gored through the torso.

The weirdest part was that it didn't hurt. Not exactly. Not in the way regular injuries did, at least. The horn had pretty much gone straight through my abdomen, the section that was already missing. These smoke-bodies had already proven themselves fairly adept at simulating real pain, but being damaged slash half-functioning like that section was seemed to have broken that particular function. So instead of feeling like I had a horn through my gut, it felt like I had a horn through my soul.

Someone in the crowd screamed.

“Well, maybe this will make those idiots run away.”

I wasn’t dead, and I could still move. If I was thinking clearly, I might’ve done something smarter. But, I was still hyperfocused on being stabbed, so I didn’t do that and did something dumb instead.

I planted both my feet on Paladin’s shoulders, her roar cutting off with surprise. I grabbed the spike with both hands, bracing myself, and snap it off.

The good news, was that it worked.

The bad news, was that there was nothing holding me up now.

The worse news was the horn was still speared through me.

Paladin reared back with a scream as I fell. The horn hadn’t come off neat; it had fractured like crystal, leaving a jagged stump on top of her head. I hit the ground almost directly on the spike, sending another spike of pain through my soul, and a much more real one through my chest as the spike shifted into a part of me that hadn’t been damaged yet.

Now I coughed blood, a thin spray shooting upwards and mixing with smoke that was also expelled. Oh god, oh god, oh god, it hurts, it hurts-

“Woman up, Hannah. Push through it. It isn’t real, remember? This isn’t you. You’re fine. If getting your guts clawed off didn’t stop you, this won’t either. It isn’t real.

It isn’t real. It isn’t real. Slowly, clenching my jaw, I grabbed the spike and pulled it out. There was a little bit of resistance at first, it had stuck into the ground below me, but then it was out, with only a little bit of blood smeared across its surface. Which also hurt, needless to say, but it was better than having it in my body.

With that out of the way, I was able to get back onto my feet. I’d landed on the edge of the platform, where I’d made a small crater in the concrete. When I had a quick look around, it seemed like the rest of the people had fled, thank goodness. The train sat on its track, unmoving; apparently, whatever kind of safety systems it had had finally kicked in and shut it down.

Paladin also stood on the tracks, pawing at her head with one limb. It wasn’t bleeding, no flesh had been caught in it, but it was… oozing. I checked the horn, which I was still holding in one hand, and found that it too was dripping slightly, some kind of almost ichor-like golden liquid that evaporated away before it hit the ground.

Gross.

I couldn’t spend the time to try and figure out why a hard-light projection would liquify. Paladin had apparently accepted the loss of her horn, and began charging at me again. The tracks weren’t exactly wide, though, so she didn’t have much room to build up speed. It also meant I didn’t have much time to react.
I desperately threw myself to the side as she crashed into the platform, tearing straight through the concrete. She almost half-buried herself in it, and for a brief, hope-filled second I thought she’d managed to trap herself. Then her awkwardly-sized wings slapped against the ground, leveraging her out. So much for that.

“Okay, stop and think.” I threw myself into the air as she charged me again, arcing over her head and landing behind her. “Well, don’t stop, but, you know. For the first time, we’re not actually trying to prevent her from breaking something, or going somewhere.”

What’s your point?

“Well…” I picked up a piece of rubble and threw it at Paladin. It shattered harmlessly off her side, but it distracted her for long enough that I could get out of the way. “What are we going to do?”

What do you mean? We’re going to… oh.

“Yeah.” Paladin sideswiped a supporting pillar, causing the whole structure to tremble dangerously. “Right now, we’re sort of on a ‘dodge her to death’ plan, which isn’t going to work. Our options are either try and contain her, which has gone poorly so far because she keeps growing bigger. Or…”

...yeah. We can’t… I mean, she’s…

It’s not right.

“Right is kind of not the highest priority right now?” I picked up a vending machine with the intent of throwing it at her again. “Also, that’s not going to do anything.”

It’ll distract her. She was moving faster than I’d thought, though, and even though she turned away to avoid it smashing into her face, her momentum carried her straight towards me anyway. I went light and leaped out of the way, but the very edge of my foot caught on something and sent me into a spin.

I hit the ground and bounced a few times before coming to a stop, groaning. Thankfully, though, Paladin had buried herself in the remains of the wall, so I had a few moments respite.

As I sat up, I noticed that my wound seemed to be producing more smoke than before.

Like, a lot more.

I’d actually left a trail through the air, a few arcs of wispy lavender that were quickly fading away. They were thick, though, and the hole in my torso was still spewing it out like a smoke machine.

Oh, that’s not good. Experimentally, I went solid again, and while I could still do it, it definitely felt… less. Just sort of less.
“Okay, and there’s also that, now. So we’re effectively on the clock. We have to figure out something before we lose this body completely, and unless you’ve come up with any brilliant ideas in the last sixty seconds…”

We’ll delay, I decided. Keep on dodging, keep her here, wait for Thrust and the others to catch up.

“That’s a dodge and you know it! We need to-”

What?! We need to what?!

“...stop her.”

Cut out the euphemisms! Just say it!

“We need to kill her! There, are you happy?! We need to kill her, before she kills someone else!”

With a roar, Paladin extracted herself from the rubble, sending a spray outwards. I turned to face her, raising my fists.

I… don’t think I can.

“Well, too bad. She’s-”

Paladin roared again as she stretched her wings, tearing through a support structure, sending rubble raining down. The noise was cacophonous, but one sound still cut clear through it.

A strained, high-pitched scream.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support bad news double-whammies,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Stand 23-IV

Far More Than Our Abilities.

I did something stupid.

“Hey, let’s review. What was the last non-stupid thing we did?”

Paladin had landed almost at the complete end of the tracks, just before the station. The people around me were just beginning to notice, pointing and yelling or screaming. Can I jump out the front, stop the train?

“Are you kidding me? At this speed, we’ll either tear completely through the train, or the tracks.”

At the speed we’re going…

The speed we’re going.

“Oh. Oh, this is a bad idea. A dumb, hard, bad idea.”

I jumped upwards and ghosted, floating up through the the angled front of the train. I lifted my legs up slightly, and went solid, and was instantly slammed against the glass as the wind caught me. I gritted my teeth, and slowly leveraged myself into a crouch. Up ahead, Paladin was reeling around, trying to get her footing on the too-small tracks. It was hard to tell for sure, but I was pretty sure she’d ‘grown’ again; the ratio of flesh to light was really small now, and there was a sharp-looking, horn-like protrusion on her head that I was sure hadn’t been there before. It had probably happened while she was in the air, and her wings couldn’t support the additional weight. Was she just going to keep on growing? Where was all the additional mass even coming from, anyway? And-

“Speeding train. Imminent disaster.”

I took a deep breath, went dense and leaped, pushing myself forward. As soon as my feet left the surface of the train, I immediately returned to normal weight, as the glass shattered behind me. With the momentum produced by the additional strength from being dense acting on a normal-mass body, plus the already-considerable momentum of the train, meant I shot down the section of track between me and Paladin in an instant. The wind was pulling the edges of my mouth, and a second later, it yanked my scarf away entirely. It wasn’t the real one, but I still felt a slight stab of loss.

Paladin was on her side, flailing one leg in the air, trying to get some purchase on the smooth surface of the tracks. Up close, she was definitely larger than she’d been before. I could barely even tell where her head was any more.

I didn’t get a better look at her, though, because the next second, I slammed into her, going approximately 150 kilometers an hour.

41 meters a second.

Bonkers fast.

I was glad no-one was around, because I was screaming my lungs out.

I went dense just before I hit, because I didn’t want to die. Considering that, and the speed, I was sort of expecting one of two things to happen. One, I hit her and she goes flying away, like one pool ball hitting another. Two, I just… tear straight through her. I’d been hoping for the former, obviously; not just because I’d rather go with the non-potentially-lethal option, but also because tearing through didn’t actually move her off the tracks. Which, you’ll recall, was the main reason I was doing this insane thing.

Instead of either of those, though, it was more like… well, it was more like one person tackling another. It wasn’t so much me hitting her as it was me taking her along for the ride. Based on the way she’d responded to hits from Awestruck before, it was possible that she had something like impact redistribution. I wasn’t thinking that at the time, of course. Mostly it was just screaming.

After a couple of rotations, the two of us separated, still in the air. Paladin crashed back into the tracks, skidding along them, while I was flung into the air, spinning head over heels. I was completely disoriented, and somewhat nauseated, but I managed to realise that I didn’t want to be dense when I hit the ground. Going light immediately slowed the spin, and after a couple more seconds of frantically waving my arms around, I leveled out, slowly floating to the apex of my arc.

We’d actually gone straight through the station while we tumbled. It was an open air one, with platforms on either side, which was why I hadn’t smashed through a roof on my way up. I could see crowds gathered at the far end of the platform, and beyond them, Paladin getting to her… feet (?), on the stretch of spare track that stretched a short ways beyond the platforms. I could also see the train pulling in, unharmed apart from the crumpled-in front section. I winced. I hadn’t expected it to be quite so… dramatic. Well, I hadn’t really expected anything, per say. I wasn’t really thinking about damages at the time. I think it’d be hard to say it was worse than what would’ve happened if I’d done nothing, though.

Paladin steadied herself, facing back towards the station, and roared, rearing her head back. I could see the people on the platform wince at the sound. The sensible ones, at least. Most of them were pointing phones or cameras at it. I’d be more annoyed, but I’d probably do the same thing. Still, all of Paladin’s behaviour so far had leaned more towards flight than fight, so-

She lowered her head, and charged down the track towards the station.

“Unless that actually hurt her, and now she’s aggravated.”

You are spectacularly unhelpful. I went dense, and dropped like a stone. I’d been directly above the middle of the station, and I angled myself forwards as I fell, trying to land as far past the platform as I could without overshooting Paladin. Blowing off maths class was suddenly seeming like more and more of a mistake.

I landed light, a little closer to the platform than I’d have liked. Amazingly, some people were still standing there, still filming. And as I landed, the cameras, and the attention, turned to me. I’d have been terrified, if I wasn’t already much more afraid of the giant monster bearing down on me.

“Run away!” I yelled at them. “What the heck is wrong with you?!”

“Who the h*ll are you?!” one of them yelled back.

My head jerked back and forth between the crowd and Paladin. She was getting very close now. “Why does that matter?! Who I am won’t change-” Too close. I spun my head back around, gritted my teeth, held up my arms for impact.

Paladin slammed into me, driving me backwards, and actually digging me into the ground slightly. She roared, continuing to push me backwards as I braced, arms either side of her head on what might generously be considered shoulders. I was digging a long trench in the tracks, but she was definitely slowing do-

Something hit me in the gut, and suddenly I was lifted into the air. The impact knocked the wind out of me, and I was disoriented enough that it took me a few seconds to look down and find Paladin’s horn stabbed straight through my torso.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support making the trains run on time,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Stand 23-III

It Is The Unknown We Fear.

I couldn't let myself stop and think about what I was doing. If I did, I'd probably have a panic attack right there and mess it all up. So instead, I focused intently on the oncoming train, watching its rapid approach as I fell.

Within seconds, though, I realised that my initial plan wasn’t going to work. I’d planned to grab onto the top of the train, and hitch a ride that way, but the surface was smooth and unbroken. And at the speeds it was moving, I didn’t trust my ability to grab the edge of one of the carriages without a.) tearing straight through it (if dense), b.) tearing straight through my own arm (if normal), or c.) losing my grip immediately thanks to the wind (if light). I was left hurtling towards the tracks, with the train racing to get there first.

“If one train leaves Baltimore at 8:35 going 60 mph, and another leaves D.C. at 9:00 going 90 mph…”

I could just ghost through the tracks and the train and be fine, but that didn’t solve anything. So I had to come up with something new, and desperately hoped it worked.

And that it doesn’t destroy the train.

Maybe twenty meters above the track, I went intangible- No, I need air resistance -and immediately corrected to just very, very light. I slowed within seconds, until I was drifting just above the tracks. I’d beaten the train down, but not by much, and the sight of a sleek hunk of metal bearing down on me as I looked up nearly stopped my heart. Thankfully, the fight-or-flight leant towards fight, and I managed not to deer-in-the-headlights myself.

It was a near thing, though.

I jumped just as the train arrived, bringing myself up to about where the floor of the interior would be, and went intangible. The sleek, slanted front passed through me harmlessly, and then I was inside. Instantly, I went solid, but still light, and then I was flying down the center of the car. Well, technically, I was standing still as it sped around me, but from my perspective, the difference was pretty academic. I caught the barest glimpses of some very shocked faces from the passengers, before I hit the wall at the other end of the carriage.

Being the approximate density of styrofoam meant that I didn’t splatter like an overripe tomato, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt. After a second, I fell off the wall, collapsing to my knees, groaning loudly. My bones hurt. I was pretty sure my bones weren’t supposed to hurt.

Do I even have bones right now?

After a few seconds, the ringing in my ears faded away, quickly being replaced with soft murmuring. I lifted my head to find the train’s passengers crowded around me, staring and whispering.

What they saw was a tall, gangly teenager wearing ski goggles, a scarf and a hood, her clothing torn, tattered and covered in dust, who had just hurtled down the entire length of a train cabin and apparently survived. Oh, and half her torso was missing, and the gaps were leaking lavender smoke. I couldn’t really begrudge them the stares.

It was still an entire train car’s worth of people looking directly at me, though. Thank goodness for my face being covered, otherwise I was pretty sure I’d have frozen up. Even with that, I could still feel every single one of the eyes on me, boring into me like lasers.

“When it doubt, whip it out. ‘It’ being self-confidence, in this case. Act like you belong…”

I stood up fully, trying to ignore the burning protest from my body. Affecting a casual air, I brushed some dust off my shoulders, then stepped forward. “Excuse me,” I managed to say, and the crowd actually parted, letting me through. It was like a little bubble of space around me, no-one willing to get too close. I glanced around, and wherever I looked, people looked away. It was… uncomfortable, actually. I didn’t like the idea of people being afraid of me.

I got the same reactions all the way up the carriage, but I just did my best to ignore it. I’d never seen these people before, and I’d hopefully never see them again. There was one girl who looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place her, and just dismissed it.

The front of the train was hardened one-way glass, which was why I hadn’t been able to see through it from the outside. The people up this end had actually seen me pass through the front, so their reaction was more polarised. Some still skittered away, but others looked at me with curiosity, or suspicion.

Looking out the window, I could see the city center rapidly approaching, silver spires shooting skyward, with the Tower rising above them all. The train didn’t actually go all the way to the Tower, but it got pretty close, stopping at the ring of stations around it. Hopefully I'd be able to spot Paladin from-

“Oi!” I jumped, spinning to find a portly, middle-aged man jabbing a finger at me. “Who do you think you are, jumping around like that?”

“Ooh, you should pick him up with one hand. That'd be hilarious!”

I'm not going to intimidate a civilian! What's wrong with you?!

“Well, let's see your way of handling this, then.”

Uhhhh…

“Hey! Can you hear me?” He clicked his fingers in my face.  Without any better ideas, and panicking slightly, I just turned back to the window and ignored him. “Hey!”

We were coming in to the first of the skyscrapers now, and light entering the train began flickering and strobing. I could see the ring station and the end of the tracks in the distance, growing larger. Still no sign of Paladin, though. Maybe I'd made it ahead of her? I doubted it, but anything was possible.

The man was still talking to me, louder and more forceful now. I turned back to face him, mouth opening to snap a rebuke, but the words kind of caught in my throat, and I just ended up staring at him.

And to my infinite surprise, it actually worked. He seemed to deflate as I continued staring at him, and he slunk away. I guess that with my face covered, it looked a lot more intimidating than the worried, panicked face that was underne-

There was a loud boom from above, and everyone's heads swivelled around to look. Above us, a large golden mass clipped the edge of a building, sending debris and dust flying.

“Found her.”

Her wings were beating desperately, awkwardly, but they didn't seem like they were up to the task of keeping her aloft any more. With an earsplitting roar, she spiralled out of the air and came crashing down on the tracks.

Directly in front of the oncoming train.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support things going off the rails,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Stand 23-II

Caution With Our Curiosity.

“So,” I said warily, “how exactly are-” The wind smacked me in the face as we shot off, snatching the words from my mouth, and replacing them with “ahhhhhh!”

I was clinging to Thrust’s back, arms wrapped around his torso, kneeling on top of the back of his calves. I'd gone as light as I could without being completely intangible, but now the air resistance was threatening to drag me off. I clung tighter as we rocketed forward, and increased my weight slightly, but the sheer speed we were going still threatening to pull me loose.

We rocketed forward across the ground, picking up speed quickly. Thrust knelt low, the segmented forcefields around his knees and lower legs supporting his weight, and leant forward with his arms stretched out backwards. It would’ve looked like an anime character if he was running, but as he was, the position’s purpose was obvious: the jets of red liquid shooting out of his hands provided the force that was his namesake, and was currently trying to drag my skin entirely off of my face.

“Stop screaming!” Thrust yelled at me, his words almost snatched away completely by the wind. I didn’t even realize I still was, and I snapped my mouth shut, embarrassed. Doing so made me realize that although I’d subconsciously expected the ride to be rough, there was actually almost no vibration or jostling at all. What I’d felt initially had been my own screaming. I looked down at the forcefields, and watched the tarmac slide smoothly along underneath them. They must have been nearly frictionless, for this method to work. Can he only generate them around his legs? I definitely haven’t seen them used in any other way, but that’s such a ridiculously specific power, and frictionless forcefields would be incredibly useful…

“Hold on!” The words jolted me out of my thoughts, and I realized we were rapidly shooting towards a T-junction.

““Hold on”? Because, what, right now we’re just giving him a hug?”

Not help-ful. As we grew closer, he twisted his body 90 degrees, and stuck one arm out directly towards the wall. The stream immediately began slowing us, and a second later, he adjusted the other arm so it pointed behind us. Even with the first stream counteracting our momentum, we still came very close to hitting the wall before recovering and shooting off again.

“I said to stop screaming,” Thrust said irritatedly. Oh. Whoops. In my defense, it had looked like we were going to pancake ourselves against a brick wall.

We took another corner in the same manner, putting us back on track towards the Tower. The buildings around us were growing taller now, and I was pretty sure we’d reached the edge of… Shelter, that was it. In a way, it was better that Paladin had grown wings. If she hadn’t, she might’ve rampaged straight through all of-

“F***!” Thrust yelled, and suddenly we were spinning through the air. I lost track of our surroundings for a moment, and then we thumped back down onto the ground, no momentum lost. A loud horn blared behind us, and I glanced over my shoulder to see the a car growing smaller. I’d seen so many empty streets tonight that it almost seemed wrong. There aren’t supposed to be cars on streets. There are supposed to be superheroes and supervillains, and giant golden abominations. “A**hole didn’t have his lights on,” Thrust complained.

We turned, perpendicular to the Tower again, and found more cars, speeding in both directions. Thrust seemed to be prepared now, though, and wove through them with what seemed like effortlessness, but was probably just lots of practice and experience. More horns blared, but no-one swerved or crashed; stuff happens sometimes, and driving in New Chicago seemed to involve getting used to that fact.

I jerked my head around as we passed a corner that would’ve taken us back on track again, watching it disappear behind us. “Where are we going?” I yelled. “The Tower’s that way!”He jerked his head forward as we slid between a sedan and an SUV, gesturing towards… something? “What?” He shook his head for a second, then repeated the gesture, but more upwards. I looked again, and…

Ohhh.

One of the spoke-like, high speed train lines that ran straight out from the city center was up ahead. Lifted above the buildings below it by supports that were ingeniously integrated into the structures below, it was a gleaming line of metal that sat just above the horizon like the frame of a painting.

A second after realising what Thrust was talking about, I also realised what he meant by it. “Ohh no,” I said, probably too quiet for him to hear. “Oh, no, no, no. You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Brace yourself,” he yelled to me as we hit a relatively empty stretch of road. The line was still a few blocks away, and I didn’t see any way for us to get up there; there wasn’t a station nearby in either direction.

Abruptly, his streams cut out, leaving us sliding across the road on built-up momentum. The red lighting hadn’t disappeared, though; now, it gathered rapidly around Thrust’s hands, condensing and darkening, like it was building up pressure.

That turned out to be a very accurate simile.

Just before we got run over by a semi truck, the gathered energy released all at once with an almost-blinding flash of red. It felt almost like the beginning of a theme park ride, one of those ones where the ball is strapped with thick elastic cable to a slingshot and flung into the air, a rapid acceleration that sent my stomach plunging downwards. We soared through the air, the truck that nearly flattened us shrinking away, wind ripping at my hood and my hair. Thrust abandoned his kneeling pose, stretching out like Iron Man, and the streams resumed, carrying us further upwards like one of those water jetpacks I’d seen on YouTube.

By the time we reached the apex of the jump, we were well above the height of the train line, and still moving rapidly towards it. Too rapidly, actually. At this rate, we were going to overshoot it.

Thrust noticed it too. He swore aloud, and began moving the streams to compensate, but something went wrong, throwing him off balance. We flailed around for a second before he recovered, but our speed hadn’t decreased at all, and we were almost at the raised line now. We were going to miss it entirely, and with it, our chance to-

I saw the train to my right, shooting towards us, and a plan formed in my mind in the same instant. “Catch up with me!” I yelled into Thrust’s ear. We were just passing over the train line, and so before he could react, I let go of him, letting the wind pull me backwards.

In a second, I was floating almost perfectly still directly above the tracks. Thrust rapidly grew smaller in front of me, yelling things I couldn’t make out, and the train was growing closer. I was drifting slowly down, but at that rate I’d probably miss the next train, let alone the current one.

I took a deep breath, went solid and let myself drop.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support railroad plots,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.

Stand 23-I

HANNAH
The Darkest Of Times.

“Come on, come on, come on.” The muttering was barely even a conscious action, as I dug through the pile of rubble. “Come on, come on…”

I hefted a large piece and tossed it to one side, where it shattered in two. Removing it revealed yet more featureless chunks of concrete and rebar, and underneath, the slightest patch of gnarled brown. Oh thank goodness. “Stump?” I yelled as I began digging faster. “Can you hear me?”

A muffled groan echoed out from underneath the pile, then I word I couldn’t quite make out. Sounded kind of like “hand”, presumably as in “give us a”.

“I’m working on it,” I called back. It wasn’t complicated, just hard. Lots of bits to toss aside, and if I moved too fast, they just shattered into smaller bits. Finally, after a few minutes, I managed to uncover his head and most of his torso and arms. The wooden armor was heavily chipped, and one of the hands had been torn off entirely. I gasped involuntarily when I saw it. “Your hand!”

He groaned again, and slowly sat up, showering rubble behind him. He looked down at the… stump, at the end of his wrist. “Oh. I’ll regrow that later.”

“You can just do that?”

He sighed heavily. “I could do it now if I wasn’t-” the chips in the wood slowly began to patch themselves up, “-tired.” It was fascinating to watch, almost like a timelapse.

“You and me both,” I replied tiredly, offering him an arm up. He grabbed it with his one remaining hand, and pulled himself onto his feet, dislodging the rubble on top of his legs.

“What happened?” he asked immediately, shaking his head like he was clearing it. “Where is every-” he caught sight if my midsection. “Holy… Wisp, your…” he stammered for a second. “How are you not dead? Where are all your organs?”

“I'm fine,” I waved him off.

“You're obviously not.”

“I'm walking, aren't I?” I turned and began moving away, to demonstrate.

“You're a walking smoke machine.” He followed me, his gait slightly awkward. “I'm guessing Paladin’s…” the word “dead” hung unspoken in the air.

“Gone,” I finished instead, pointing tiredly at the Tower in the distance. “Grew wings and flew away.”

“...what.”

“I wish I was joking.” I was pretty sure Awestruck had been tossed over here; having him would make getting others out easier.

He spluttered incoherently for a few seconds. “We need to- we should- why are you so calm?”

“Calm. Heh.”

Shut up. “I’m not.” I eyed the pile of rubble; it was mostly a few larger pieces. It would take being contorted into some improbably angles for a person to be completely hidden underneath it. “So what should we do, then.” I began walking on. Based on where I’d been thrown, the other Guardians should be… over there, somewhere.

“Go after her!” he almost-yelled. “H-Wisp, what’s wrong with you?”

“Did I mention the part about the wings?” I snapped back. “There was no way I could keep up. And you were all-”

I was interrupted by the sound of rubble crumbling behind me. I spun around to find the pile I’d dismissed falling apart on its own, revealing a small mirrored oblong within. It blinked out of existence a second later, leaving Kai standing there, cradling one arm. She’d lost her sunglasses, too, and was squinting slightly. “Ow,” she said loudly.

“Are you okay?” I asked, striding back towards her.

She waved me down. “Fine. Well, apart from the broken arm. Fine apart from the broken arm.” I winced as I got a better look at it. That wasn’t a healthy angle.

“Do you know where the others ended up?”

She shook her head. “Flash of light, we all went flying, I put up a shield, and we’re here now.”

“Wisp!” Stump had continued on instead of turning back, and was now standing in front of a collapsed building, gesturing me over.

“Can you walk?” I asked Kai.

She stared at me flatly. “No, I can’t, because I walk on all four limbs like a gorilla.”

I couldn’t be bothered, so I just turned and began jogging over.

As I grew closer, Thrust clambered out of the hole in the front of the building. He seemed virtually unhurt, but uncharacteristically grim. “Can’t move anything,” he said to Stump. A second later, the interior of the building came into view, and I realized why.

The second level of the building had collapsed downwards as well as the front, flooding the bottom level with debris. Lying half-buried inside it was Comet, her bottom half and part of her torso covered. Her helmet had been knocked off, revealing thin, severe features, with a heavy cut just below one eye. Surprisingly, she was conscious, but from the look on her face, not by much.

“What happened?” she asked immediately, her voice weak but firm. “Is Paladin-”

I gave the same explanation again. Thrust’s face dropped, but Comet just seemed… tired.

“What now, boss?” Stump asked. “Are you...?”

“I am not going to die, if that is what you’re asking,” she replied. “But I think I have lost a lot of blood. Wisp,” she said, switching her attention back to me, “how fast was Paladin flying?”

“Compared to what?” I asked. “Not Awestruck-fast, but faster than running.”

She nodded, frowning. “Thrust. How quickly can you get to the Tower?”

“From here? A few minutes, if I…” he trailed off as he realised where she was going. “Oh no.”

“Yes,” she said simply. “Wisp, go with him. You have the most offensive capability of anyone remaining.”

“What?” I protested. “No. Can’t the other heroes at the Tower handle it?”

“What other heroes?” she replied. “There were only a few who weren’t with us, and none particularly powerful. We might still have another chance at stopping her. Thrust can carry you there; the rest of us will follow.”

“Not the way you are, you won’t.”

“I can not carry her,” Thrust protested.

“I can become very light,” I answered without thinking. Darnit, don’t help her case!

“You can and you will.” Comet’s tone brooked no argument. “You need to restrain her. If you can get to the Tower before her, Graves might have something.”

“Comet,” Stump protested. “This is-”

“The only option we have,” she cut him off, and then coughed roughly, little flecks of blood spraying out. “You need to go, now,” she continued hoarsely. “We’ve wasted enough time already.”

I groaned, running a hand back through my hair. “Comet-”

Go,” she snapped.

We went.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support Mr. Thrust's Wild Ride,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.